Pursing Peace

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Mattos-Masai

There is something very strange going on in Klal Yisroel. A phenomenon which is affecting every community in the United States and even more so in Israel. There is good news and bad news. The good news is that we are in a Golden Age of Judaism. There has never been as many Yeshivas and Day schools in the history of the world. Not just in New York anymore as it was when I was a child, but across the country, North and South. We have arrived. The bad news is that there are thousands of children around the world that are “falling through the cracks”. They don’t fit into any of the Yeshivas. There are thousands of parents whom as we speak are scrambling around the country searching for a place for their child to learn Torah. I myself am spending a good part of the day speaking to Roshei Yeshiva, listening to precisely what type of student they are looking for. Actually, they are all looking for the same thing and there is an ever increasing number of students that just don’t fit in.

Rosh Chodesh Av is the yahrtzeit of Aharon HaKohein. Aharon saw his role of a kohein as more than a ritual slaughterer and a sacrificer. He saw himself as a peacemaker. He devoted his life to building bridges between individuals and communities. How ironic, that his yahrtzeit is not celebrated because the day has already been used on the Jewish calendar to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem. A tragedy that took place because of a lack of peace and bridge building.

Let’s open a window into Jewish history just where this week’s Parsha takes us. By this time Moshe had already had his share of difficult moments and disappointments with Klal Yisroel. He had the frustrating experience of constantly appearing before Pharaoh succeeding only to see Pharaoh regress back into his old self. He watched his people betray G-d as they built the golden calf. He listened to them audaciously complain against G-d when they didn’t like the taste of the Manna. He dealt with a rebellion against his leadership and he fought against the spies for the honor of the land of Israel. Despite the historical implications of the Jewish behavior, our Rebbe Moshe, more or less, never lost his cool. Suddenly the leaders of two of the tribes of Israel, Gad and Reuven, who as far as we know were good people, come to Moshe in a very respectful tone and voiced a request. “We are abundant with flock and children,” they said, “can we please stay on this side of the Jordan where there will be plenty of room for us?” Moshe responded in a way he had never responded before. According to one Medrash he scolded them for three days straight. He threatened them and nearly cursed them. Why did this request set off something in Moshe beyond any response that we have ever seen?

The answer is that somehow, until this point in the history of the new Jewish people, even when we sinned we did so as a people. We had ups and we had downs but it all took place within the framework of Klal Yisroel. Now, for the first time in history, a group came to Moshe and said, “We want out”. They had no problem with G-d, with Torah and had nothing personal with Moshe. They had no interest in mutinying or revolting. They just didn’t want to be part of the Jewish people. They just wanted to start their own community with like minded relatives and be left alone. According to the Zohar they were elitist. Moshe saw red. He saw before him the first major division in Israel. He listened to the plans for the first break away minyan. When the integrity of the wholeness of the Jewish people was compromised Moshe knew that it meant trouble.

Take intermarriage for example, the issue is not only the severity of the sin but rather by intermarrying, the shleimut or completeness of the Jewish people has been compromised. This is how Moshe heard the Bnei Gad and Reuven. If you want to sin, we’ll work something out somehow, but don’t walk out the door. You will be unreachable and the whole of the Jewish people will suffer. The Jews relationship with G-d is dependent on its wholeness. The definition of Judaism is 12 separate tribes, as one.

Those who have great Torah learning are entitled to carve out a niche for their followers. They are even entitled to create a unique expression of Judaism. I’m all for it. But then there is a line. There is always a Jordan River. If you are on the other side of the river or if you push someone else over there, you’ve gone too far.

If you can be an Aharon and fix some of this, this is the season. If like most of us you are just an observer I recommend a micro tune-up. At this time of year we must look at the relationships we are involved in. For people to bond is almost always difficult. We can’t expect to agree on all issues. If we would, development of our homes, Shul and our own character would become stifled. It’s so complicated. While we carve out our niche and make our contribution we must never walk out the door or leave the table. We must never separate ourselves from those around us.

The Talmud is full of arguments between Rava and Abaye. There is actually not a page of the Talmud that doesn’t record an argument between Rava and Abaye. Almost 3000 arguments. At the end of so many of them the Talmud records “Tirgama Abaye aliba D’Rava. Abaye explained it according to Rava. Beis Hillel, says the Gemara, always repeated the opinions of Beis Shamai before saying their own.

I know I’m naïve but I think that if we fix the world on a micro level, Hashem will fix it on the macro. We must develop a policy of inclusivity. Let me suggest an exercise for the nine days. Locate someone who doesn’t fit in. Someone who feels they are not part of the whole. Hold their hand and walk them over the river. Bring the Jews together. We can learn together, Daven together and with G-ds help we can build the Beis HaMikdash together.

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